Caroline Lucas' arrest this afternoon at the Balcombe fracking protest might be quite useful for the Green MP, but it's hardly going to give ministers a sleepless night. Lucas' presence is actually rather distracting from a real problem that ministers do need to address: ensuring that communities feel they have a stake in the shale gas exploitation taking place on their doorstep.
David Cameron rather got their hopes up recently when he, by a slip of the tongue, promised that communities would get a £1 million incentive for accepting drilling on site when the figure was actually £100,000. And today the Local Government Association has been calling for councils to get 10 per cent of fracking profits, which is surely an initial negotiating position rather than the final offer they hope to emerge with. The current position is 1 per cent of the revenue going to town halls. Either way, Number 10 didn't seem too keen about it at the morning lobby briefing, saying 1 per cent was a 'good level'.
Downing Street also made an attempt today to underline that shale gas fracking won't be imposed on communities as Lucas and other opponents are claiming. Asked whether the PM would accept fracking in his own constituency, his spokesman said that 'if locally led planning processes were followed then yes, the Prime Minister would be happy'. But this summer there have been rumblings that the government has a way to go to make the case for fracking to communities likely to be affected by the drilling. Lancashire MPs have already warned against giving local people 'crumbs off the table'. It is the worries of these MPs and local politicians that ministers will be paying attention to, not the antics of those implacably opposed to shale gas exploitation like Caroline Lucas.